‘Men are trash’ has become a natural part of my idiolect: when I am mansplained to, when someone grabs me in a club, when I’m interrupted in a meeting. It’s a cathartic lament, and a way of getting people to listen to you – whether that’s to find comfort in empathetic women, or to give men a taste of your frustration. And it works.
I’ve grown used to the ‘not all men’ echoes that reverberate when I say ‘men are trash’. Sometimes this comes from people who don’t quite understand what I’m saying and want to learn. Other times, ‘not all men’ is a cry from the very men who are trash and are uncomfortable with that realisation.
I never thought Instagram would ‘not all men’ me – not an algorithm censoring my laments! But, recently, that’s exactly what happened: I reposted an Instagram post to my story praising MacKenzie Scott’s recent charitable donations (in total reaching over $1 billion USD), and her pledge to give away most of her wealth by the end of her life. Scott is the ex-wife of multi-billionaire Jeff Bezos, founder, and CEO of Amazon who, in contrast, reportedly gives 0.1% of his wealth to charity.
My caption read, ‘this is why men are trash and women deserve the world’. Less than 2 minutes later, I received a notification from Instagram, informing me that my story had been taken down for violating Instagram’s community guidelines.
I did some research. Instagram’s community guidelines cover things like intellectual property, illegal content, spam, and appropriate imagery (read: no female nipples, no genitalia). They also prohibit the glorification of self-injury, discourage posting graphic violence, and ban hate speech.
Instagram says, ‘We remove credible threats of violence, hate speech and the targeting of private individuals. We do not allow attacks or abuse based on race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, disability, or disease.’ My story, in particular, fell into the ‘hate speech’ category which, fair enough, fits the case: I was targeting a specific group (men), and I was calling them trash.
“Instagram allows women to be attacked by its users every day – users that are breaking its ‘community guidelines’.”
However, from hate comments, to being attacked for not being the right kind of empowered (feminists are supposed to wear lab coats, not bikinis!), to being the subject of dedicated ‘exposing’ pages; Instagram allows women to be attacked by its users every day – users that are breaking its ‘community guidelines’. Honing in on and quickly removing content that could be interpreted as hate speech against men, then, is hypocritical.
However, misogynistic hypocrisy is literally written into Instagram’s code. Instagram was launched in 2010, and was bought by Facebook in 2012, a website founded in 2004 by five men as a ‘hot or not’ game for male Harvard students to judge their female peers. Needless to say, Facebook has changed a lot since its misogynistic youth, but rather than growing into a woke teen or community activist as we might have hoped, 16-year-old Facebook is still biased against women, and its younger sibling, Instagram, is just one manifestation of this. Enter, the algorithm.
What is the best time to post? How do I get more engagement? Which are the best hashtags to use? These questions are all provoked by the infamous algorithm, a system that was introduced in 2016 and, according to Instagram, orders posts ‘to show the moments we believe you will care about the most.’ However, this algorithm is biased against women. Let me explain.
“Facebook is still biased against women, and its younger sibling, Instagram, is just one manifestation of this. Enter, the algorithm.”
Anyone deemed to be breaking Instagram’s ‘community guidelines’ is placed on something called a ‘shadowban’, meaning the algorithm works against the user to bury their content. In theory, this is a good idea: to bury hate speech, graphic images, and offensive videos. However, because Instagram’s guidelines are so vague and inconsistently enforced, it has been found that women and non-binary people are more affected by shadowbans than cisgender heterosexual men, particularly: black women, plus size women, LGBTQ+ people, and sex workers.
For example, in their ‘appropriate imagery’ clause, Instagram says, ‘We don’t allow nudity on Instagram, with some exceptions, like photos of post-mastectomy scarring and women actively breastfeeding. Nudity in photos of paintings and sculptures is OK, too.’ In practise, female nudity is penalised where male nudity just isn’t.
On another page outlining the guidelines, ‘no nudity’ is clarified to ban ‘some photos of female nipples’, but not male nipples. Such a binary view of bodies was never going to work, and Instagram has been challenged by accounts such as @salty.world and @genderless_nipples. On both accounts, Instagram has removed photos of non-female nipples, saying the photos broke their community guidelines.
‘Instagram, you can’t even tell the difference between male and female nipples; who could!?’ @genderless_nipples wrote. ‘So why even bother banning female nipples if they can be so similar?’
As Salty founder Clair Fitzsimmons put it, “The patriarchy is in the algorithms.” In short, women and non-binary people are challenged more on their nipples than misogynists are on their hate speech.
Fitzsimmons continued, “Our digital world has been created for and by cis, straight, white men. When they write the algorithms, they embed all their prejudices, biases, and assumptions into the programs, and now we’re all living in the digital world they created for themselves.”
“In short, women and non-binary people are challenged more on their nipples than misogynists are on their hate speech.”
If I break Instagram’s ‘community guidelines’ again, I risk getting my account removed. Though it is frustrating to be told this, not much is at stake for me and my 259 followers. However, the same cannot be said for the thousands of women creators who are adversely affected and penalised by Instagram’s ‘community guidelines’. With the removal of an account, an entire livelihood can be destroyed.
The patriarchy is in the algorithms – but so is hypocrisy, fragile masculinity, and the legacy of our social media sphere being created by men. Until Instagram tackles its internal misogyny, and the rife misogyny allowed to exist on their platforms, they cannot claim they are committing to a hate speech free community.
In the meantime, men will (ironically) remain trash – and I should be free to say so.
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